Bresse – a former French province – is located in the regions of Rhône-Alpes, Bourgogne and Franche-comté in Eastern France. I only know of Bresse because we drive by it along the motorway on our way to the Italian Alps every ski break in February. There is a big metal sculpture (if you can call it that) in the shape of a chicken, as you exit the motorway into the epicentre, welcoming you to Bresse. We’ve stopped by there a couple of times to use the convenience rooms and to refresh ourselves. The Italian had mentioned a couple of times that Bresse is famous for its chickens which is the first animal in France to be awarded the AOC – Appellation d’Origine Côntroleé – making the Poulet Au Bresse the most expensive chicken to buy. Mais, c’est la vie! In my books, if you want quality, you’ve got to pay the price.
I was very excited that Cherie picked this roast chicken recipe because it gave me an excuse to splurge on a fowl. I was also equally excited as this would be my first AOC bird. The AOC is really a certification of groups of foods, like cheeses, wines, butters and other agricultural products that come from particular geographical locations in France. It is a meted out by the French government who appointed the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) to regulate and assist French agricultural producers. There are many conditions that farmers or producers must adhere to before being awarded this prestigious certificate. Look at the label on my bird: certifiably a Bresse chicken:
The recipe was taken from:
Personally and please do not be offended Cherie, I found this recipe to be very fastidious. There are many steps to follow like, “brown the chicken in a heavy based enamel pot, transfer to a serving dish, deglaze the pot with 1 and a quarter cups of Madeira wine, stirring constantly, then transfer to a medium size pan” etc etc… Kawan kawan, my old brain felt like it was on a roller coaster ride. I kept having to refer to the recipe again and again en cas I missed out some pertinent steps.
The recipe called for 8 baby artichokes which you see here:
and a bunch of baby carrots, radish and 3 small white onions. These had to be par boiled in a pan of lightly salted water with butter added, then half of the vegetables were used for stuffing the poulet. I’ve never parboiled any vegetables with butter before, so this was very interesting for me. The steaming veggies emitted a perfume so fragrant that it brought SS to la cucina to see what was for lunch. Alas, she’d have to wait for dinner.
There were vegetables galore in my little Parisian kitchen. This has to be the saving grace of the recipe. Remember how I am a stickler for 5 veg and fruit. Well, this dish had more than enough of the RDA of vegetables. Look at my pot of greens:
There were so much vegetables that I didn’t even manage to stuff the bird with half of the portion of parboiled veggies as the recipe called for. I was only able to get 3 artichoke halves, one carrot baton and a couple of radishes, and forget about the onions which were too big. I guess French birds – the ones with hair and those with feathers – tend to come out more petite. I wonder whether these Bresse chickens are put on a strict only-one-square-of-chocolate diet. In their case, it wouldn’t be chocolat but cornmeal or whatever they are fed with.
The artichokes were a challenge to clean as I’ve never cleaned one before, let alone 8. I had to google “how to clean artichokes” before attempting them myself. Honestly, it’s easier than it looks. You just have to remember to remove the hairy bits of the plant, the ‘choke’ bits, as I refer to them and be mindful of the huge mess that this job entails. Your kitchen will be filled with artichoke leaves and stems. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya! Look at my cleaned artichokes:
Artichokes discolour as soon as you clean them, so they ought to be cleaned just prior to cooking. I love them oven baked in olive oil, seasoned with lemon and salt. The MIL does this very well, a dish that I look forward to eating whenever artichokes are in season. I will now eat them with more relish knowing the trouble that the MIL has had to go through to cook them. Ti voglio bene, Mamma!
I couldn’t find the baby radishes that the recipe asked for, so I substituted them with these:
They are delicious eaten as they with a dipping sauce of olive oil, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. But these were parboiled with the onions, carrots and artichokes.
After browning the poulet as per recipe instructions, I stuck the chicken in my le creuset cocotte ovale which was made to cook chickens, I think, because the bird fits so snugly in it, and just stuck it in the oven. This bit I like – very much. Since living in Europe (counting my 20 years in England as being in Europe since I am no Euro skeptic), I’ve learnt to use the oven quite a lot. Oven baked casseroles are so welcoming in wintery months. “I just stuck it in the oven” has become the refrain that so many of my mother-friends use to refer to their daily cooking routine, because oven cooking is simply easy to do and very manageable when one has to multi-task – think: feeding baby, bathing toddlers and supervising homework whilst simultaneously cooking the dinner and still look like a goddess when the husband comes home from a hard day’s work.
Back to the recipe, as I was saying – yes, I just stuck the cocotte in the oven. I’ve had many a happy chicken cooking days with this particular cocotte although I also do love my cocotte ronde. Here’s how it looks:
Now for the science bit: please refer to the link provided above for exact measurements. The numbers were just too mind boggling….1 1/4 cups of Medeira, 3tbsps of butter….kawan kawan, I am just not good with number crunching. How much is 1 1/4 cups anyway? I don’t have a measuring jug, the last one I bought broke and the plastic one I had got left behind in London. So I just did what any professional chef does – I aghak aghak – ed. This would be a new word for any non Singaporean. Aghak Aghak just means “guess-guess” in Malay. My mother has cooked the aghak aghak way all her life, never following any recipes. She cooks by taste and sight. So did her mother and grandmother before her and all three women have churned out mouth watering dishes fit for royalty.
I will continue to carry the aghak aghak flag, kawan kawan, if you didn’t mind, in support of my mother and the womenfolk in the Tan household, since today is Mother’s Day afterall. So I used one of RN’s drinking cups and measured out 1 and 1/4 cups of Madeira wine. As for the butter, Monsieur Formagier who I had bought the butter and cream needed for this recipe from told me that 3 tbspoons amounted to about 30 g of butter. (See, he was aghak-aghaking too.) So I bought a 50g round of demi-sel and attempted to divide this into 5 parts and used 3 parts to equate to 30g of butter. This is probably getting too tedious to read, kawan kawan and understandably, very illogical for the logical-minded amongst you. I feel for you, so I’ll just say that it all worked out well.
Créme de la créme was a phrase I loved to use as a kid. I thought it showed off my prowess in learning a foreign language and I simply loved the sound of it. But, but, but, cream in my food is really not my kinda thing. The recipe called for 1 1/4 cups of créme fraiche and heavy cream. I managed to buy this cream combined at the formaggerie which I thought was rather nifty. It is really thick cream, kawan kawan, and it brought to mind images of clotting arteries and blood vessels. What a despondent thought, so I decided not to cook the veggies with it. Au lieu, I mixed the cream into the Madeira wine to form a creamy madeira sauce and served it as an aside. As for the rest of the vegetables, I added them to the cocotte to finish roasting with the chicken and then drizzled the jus from the roasted chicken that I had infused with a lemon. Here’s how it looks:
“A good base lightly flavored with Madeira will produce one of the greatest of all sauces.” Raymond Sokolov, The Saucier’s Apprentice.
Madeira is a fortified dry sweet wine made in Portugal since the 1400s. It is really a professional cooking wine and I guess one can sip it too whilst making the eponymous sauce. I’ve never cooked with this wine before so I was trés excited once more when it was time to make the sauce. I had read up about Madeira sauces and wanted to do my own take on it.
I combined the juices from the roast chicken with the first sauce that I had made from the jus obtained during the browning stages. There wasn’t much jus to begin with so the second lot of juices gave me more of a gravy to work with. I added chicken stock to this as par la recette, reducing it before adding the créme. I only added half a teaspoon, kawan kawan, just for your information. This formidable sauce when drizzled over the poulet was trés delicieuse. It is true that in French cooking, the sauce is the créme de la créme of the dish. And I must say that I was way proud of myself for this Madeira reduction only because the Italian loved it. He didn’t have much to say about the bird though, opining that it is just hype that the Bresse chicken is any more superior than an ordinary poulet fermier. For that I would have to agree with him. I will be roasting an ordinary chicken the next time and I’d like to see what la famiglia will say about it. Will they be able to tell the difference? The Italian would be happier to know the difference in the price of an ordinary French bird, I’m sure. Tell me what you think, kawan kawan – would you splurge 30€ for a Poulet Au Bresse?